Known for its rolling hills and rich farmland, the Pacific Northwest has deep roots in agriculture; here, harvest and hard work go hand in hand. Drive past the many nurseries and vineyards in the area and you’re sure to see workers out in the fields dressed in long sleeves, their faces hidden behind hats and bandanas. If you slow down, you might be surprised to notice a ponytail or the glint of an earring among the rows, because many of these workers you might not recognize…as women.
On display from October 25 through December 16 at the Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg, Campesina (“agricultural worker women” in Spanish) showcases photographs of the women behind the rows of crops and the roles they play in modern society.
The project originated over a year ago, when the Cultural Center invited Portland documentary photographer Jan Sonnenmair to curate their 2016 People of the NW: Photographed by Artists of the NW exhibition. During the exhibition, Jan shared her current passion project: traveling throughout California, Oregon, and Washington and meeting Latina women who work in agriculture, listening to their stories, and photographing them. She said the exhibition aims to share a snapshot of the women’s lives and also shed light on their circumstances.
“While travelling through the Northwest to hear the stories of these women, I learned many of them endure nearly all the issues that male farm workers face, as well as some which are largely unique: gender discrimination, pregnancy and the extra responsibility of being the primary caregivers of their children,” Sonnenmair said. According to the US Bureau of Labor, women make up an estimated 25 percent of the agricultural workforce in America, and the Campesina project captures different roles—from farm workers to Native American salmon fishers on the Columbia River.
The collection comprises a series of diptych images with a photo of a woman while she is working in a field placed directly next to a photo of the same woman in her home and highlights the connection and contrast between farm and family life. Reyna, Lydia and Heidi, to name a few of the subjects, stare at Sonnenmair’s camera standing next to Christmas trees, cows, and crops, then pose playing with their children or in a high school classroom.
“These photos have been teaching our community that each person has a diverse story even within each and every day,” said Eric Padilla, the Chehalem Cultural Center’s arts & public programming coordinator. “It has also brought to light that the people who work in agriculture. The Latina women featured in this exhibition are incredible, strong women who start their days working extremely hard work in the fields, and end their days caring for their families and providing for their homes. It is an honor to get to see a glimpse into their every day lives.”
The Chehalem Cultural Center partnered with Community and Shelter Assistance Corp (CASA) of Oregon for this exhibition, which runs from October 25 through December 16. For more information, visit chehalemculturalcenter.org